The other day a business owner and I were talking about how industry is changing. He brought up the fact that just last week, Kodak announced it was laying off 6,000 more people, mainly because consumers are buying digital cameras and digital image cards instead of good ol’ fashioned 35mm film.
New technology brings changes to all industries. But as workers, what are we doing about it? How are we facing it?
Some of you may remember your parents or grandparents talking about their old-fashioned wooden iceboxes, used before the days of refrigerant. You may have heard stories about the ice-man carrying blocks of ice up many flights of stairs. It was a hard job, but it was a good job – there was plenty of security (repeat business was guaranteed), and it paid well. But then came electronic gadgetry that kept food cold, and the career of ice-man quickly disappeared in the heat of new and superior competition.
Still, that kind of change was nothing new. Before Martin Van Buren became President of the United States in 1837, he was Governor of the State of New York. In a letter to President Andrew Jackson in 1829, Governor Van Buren lobbied the President on the issue of railroads displacing industries related to the canal system. Here is a portion of that letter:
The federal government must preserve the canals for the following reasons:
One. If canal boats are supplanted by "railroads," serious unemployment will result. Captains, cooks, drivers, hostlers, repairmen, and lock tenders will be left without means of livelihood, not to mention the numerous farmers now employed in growing hay for horses.
Two. Boat builders would suffer and towline, whip and harness makers would be left destitute.
Three. Canal boats are absolutely essential to the defense of the United States. In the event of the expected trouble with England, the Erie Canal would be the only means by which we could ever move the supplies so vital to waging modern war.
The situations change, but don’t these basic arguments sound strikingly familiar 174 years later? Thankfully, Jackson did little with Van Buren’s plea.
With all progress comes change. I doubt many would like to return to storing food in wooden boxes kept cold by blocks of ice. I also doubt many modern travelers would give up their air-conditioned jumbo jets to be moved instead by barges through canals pulled by teams of horses. And one need only glance at the financial status of Amtrak to see what we now think of travel by rail.
Experts vary in their opinion, but it is estimated the sum total knowledge in the world now doubles every three-to-five years. Additionally, adult learning experts now say that within five years of completing a formal training program, 40% of what was learned will be obsolete.
With these facts before us, it’s vital that flexibility and lifelong learning be main ingredients in how we approach work and careers.
In his press release, Kodak Chairman and CEO Daniel Carp says, "We are evolving from a historical film company into one that is aggressively pursuing the vast potential of digital imaging across all of our operations. We are extending the Kodak brand into the digital age so that we become known as the world's leading imaging company, building on our proud heritage as the world's leading picture company."
The Kodak situation, like ice boxes and canals, is just one more example proving we need to be lifelong learners. Why? It’s likely that what you do today and how you do it will change drastically within ten years. At the very least, technology will change how you work, if not the actual work itself. Think about it: In 1993, how many of us even knew about Email or laptops?